The continuing saga of two women, their men, and a whole lot of hats.

Two Sisters, Reunited

Death comes unexpectedly. Such was the case for Prudence Allworthey’s husband, Henry, who suffered a sudden death at the end of last year. Of her four husbands, Henry’s death seemed the most natural. Though he had been complaining of headaches and dizzy spells, and was relegated to bed in the weeks prior to his untimely demise, doctors were stumped by his rather swift deterioration, and sited “unanticipated but natural decline of the machine” as the official cause of death.

Henry was a successful haberdasher and hatter, known for his wide array of unusual colors and styles in men’s furnishings.  He traveled much for his work, bringing back many of the finest furnishings from places as far away as Czechoslovakia and India. His varied stock, however, proved to be a great challenge, as organization was not amongst his talents. Though he was quite the well known bachelor, and seemed to be happy as such, a life with no strings had begun to weigh him down rather than offer the freedom it had in his youth. That was why he was grateful when he discovered Prudence. Always the social butterfly, and, once again on the market, Prudence seemed to be a spirit free enough to accompany him in his travels, yet grounded enough to offer structure around which a more local life could be built.

Thus, he began to court her. Henry found her fascinating and Prudence found Henry’s business quite fascinating.  It wasn’t long before she decided that the two of them indeed shared a special kind of love. She discovered, under Henry’s tutelage that she had an affinity for creating stately toppers, and none of her former husbands would argue that she had an uncannytalent for finding a place for everything and putting everything in its place, which, as is the case with most men, was exactly the kind of talent Henry most needed in his life.

The two were a well-known item for the better part of a month before preparations for nuptials began. As soon as an engagement ring found its way to her finger, she beckoned her sister, Temperance, to come help with the arrangements. As it happened, the call could not have come soon enough. Temperance was experiencing some difficulty of her own, and found herself in need of a change of scenery. It seemed that some sort of undefined plague had slowly begun to filter through her town, starting with her neighbors, and working its way out. Why the good Lord had seen fit to spare her, she could not say. But she figured it best not to look that gift-horse in the mouth.

Though small in stature, Temperance was big in personality, and it was no secret in their hometown that the sisters often did as much bad as they did good for one another. Not one person had forgotten the fight that had led to Temperance’s departure, and as soon as word of Prudence’s engagement broke out, the whole town buzzed with busy whispers about how the event would surely bring Temperance home.  Prudence always called Temperance back for her weddings. Perhaps it was the true strength of their sisterly bond, or a certain sense of obligation she felt to her spinster sister. Or maybe it was fun to rub her good fortune in the other’s face. Whatever the case, it was always a reunion held on a breath of anticipation for the residents of Bridgeport for there was no telling what kind of combustion would occur once the two came back together. Everyoneknew the sisters would survive each other, but would the town survive them? The idea had even the most devout Christians wishing that, for once, Prudence would consider living in sin.

Now, on the day that Temperance came into town, word shot out like wild fire that the other sister had indeed returned, and, were one paying attention, they would surely have felt the very land brace itself for the eminent  reunion. The station master greeted the woman, his handlebar mustache lifting atop a smile, as he took her hand in his for a hearty shake. Relieved to see her holding only a modest carpet bag, he exhaled relief within a nervous laugh as he took her carryall, his body dipping with the added weight, and led her to the carriage Henry had sent for her. But she pulled away from him, her fluttery little voice drifting across the wind. “Oh! But no, Mr. Jennings! My things!”

The man came to a halt, only the tense shrug of his shoulders betraying his grimace whilst his back was still turned. It was as if she had just hurled a brick at his head. He wavered in the grasp of suspense as he slowly turned to see three porters wrangle an obscene amount of luggage onto a trolly. Temperance was watching the struggle, her eyes alight with pleasure as her things were collected and dumped onto the cart. She giggled madly, clasping her hands with delight as the three young men struggled with the trunks, their frames buckling beneath the bulk of the  boxes. She found the scene most enjoyable, like a troop of clowns from one of those vaudeville shows in the big cities. Surely, one would be flattened and the other two would then take a deep bow! Her disappointment was mild when she discovered this was not to be the case, and she boarded the carriage leaving three tired, sweaty boys and one harried station master in her wake.

By the time she reached Main Street, people had come out of their businesses and homes, and were gathering along either side. Temperance noticed the dappling of crowd lining the street. “Is it a parade,” she asked aloud to herself, twisting in her seat to check the traffic behind her. There was none. “Curious,” she muttered. After a moment of thought, she could only assume, all of this interest must be for her. What a wonderful welcome home! Never one to disappoint, her posture straightened, and one hand was raised in a queen’s wave as the carriage meandered up Main. And though no one returned her wave, she smiled and nodded toward all of the vacant stares, content to be seen.

The shadows were growing long by the time Temperance’s carriage arrived at the house, but she was still brimming with energy. The coach had not quite stopped before the door swung open and she hopped out. The coachman, who had needlessly hurried to her aid, sighed, shut the door, and trailed behind her doing his best to rescue the carpet bag from her hands succeeding only once she stopped to take in the full view of the rather impressive house. Eyes widened as they consumedthe structure from dirt to dormers. But her awe was broken as her bag was wrenched from her hands. Completely forgetting the coachman’s presence, she naturally assumed he was robbing her and immediately took to pounding the man over his head with her fan, cackling like a hen whose house was invaded by a fox. When one hand was not enough to fend off his attacker, the bag was dropped and Temperance snatched it from the ground, prepared to storm up the front steps as no party had seen fit to properly greet her in what was apparently a bad neighborhood.

Her storming was interrupted by the imposing figure of Mr. Henry Allworthey off whom she bounced, the collision finally stunning her silent. “I tried to help her, Mr. Allworthey, but she wouldn’t have it,” the coachman explained frantically. Of course, it was not unreasonable for the poor man to fear that he might be to blame for their guest’s frazzled state.

“Never-mind now, Thomas” Henry said, waving the equally frazzled man away. “I am sure our guest is merely tired after her journey.” Temperance blinked owlishly, plump lips parting to a subtle gape. Her head oscillated between the two as one by one she assembled the pieces to the puzzle,  eyes popping wide once the last piece was in place and the entire picture formed. Her brows lowered, and she met Henry’s cordial smile with a curt nod and a “hmph,” set on continuing into the house.

It was Prudence who arrived next, arms gliding open to welcome her beloved sister home. “Welcome home…” she began, every bit the humble servant who was blessed with continuous good fortune.

Temperance, stopped, arched a brow, and let the carpet bag slip from her fingers. It landed with an unusually loud thud as it hit the stair. Arms were folded across her body, and her chin was lofted.  Prudence, ever the magnanimous hostess, stooped to pick up the bag, not yet catching on to her sister’s scrutiny. The bag, however, was much heavier than it appeared, and its weight did more to bring Prudence to it, then she could do to bring it to her.  Upon seeing his betrothed’s inability to lift its weight, Henry stepped in and took up the carpet bag, his face contorting with a brief look of surprise at how truly heavy the bag was. Temperance gasped and shot a wounded gaze to her sister. “Criminals,” she barked at her welcoming committee snatching the bag out of Henry’s hands. She flew up the front steps of the house leaving Prudence, Henry, and Thomas (who was now chastising himself for not yet having made his escape) in her wake. The three could only exchange blank looks as they convened to figure out what had just happened. Once Prudence was able to assemble a time-line of events, she followed her sister into the house.

It tried every last bit of Prudence’s patience, but she did manage to illustrate how Temperance had misconstrued the events of her arrival. Thomas was the coachman under Henry’s employ. It was his ~job~ to take the guest’s bags from them. Eventually, Temperance smiled, and seemed to accept her sister’s explanation. They all had a hearty laugh about it over supper. But, from that day forward, Temperance always kept a wary eye open for signs of dubious behavior. She put up a brave facade for her delusional sister’s sake, but she would not be so easily convinced.

Luckily for Henry and Prudence, the wedding was little more than a week away, and all waking hours were consumed with the business of planning the event. Temperance, who had a wonderful flare for arranging such things, handled the details of the reception, while Prudence coordinated the guest list and the particulars of the ceremony. There was no question that the girls made a most unstoppable team, when they weren’t arguing. And despite the town’s initial wariness over their reunion, great excitement for the anticipated day was beginning to overshadow their fears.

Finally, the day had arrived. Every last detail was seen to, and the only thing left to do was to take that final walk. Temperance was overwhelmingly happy. It had been a long time since she was a part of such a lively community. And she and her sister had never gotten along so well. She had forgotten how much she enjoyed being part of a family. That is why it came as such a shock when, in the moments before the ceremony, Prudence told Temperance about the honeymoon. She and Henry would be gone for the better part of six months whilst they traveled the world together collecting more inventory for Henry’s shop, and Temperance, wasn’t invited.

This news stunned Temperance. In her head, plans were made, and nowhere in them was her sister’s six month absence. As she took her place at the top of the aisle, preparing to herald the bride’s arrival, she appeared to be quite the stoic maid of honor. The audience rippled with a volley of hushed commentary as she began her walk. Mr. Lloyd Duncan and Mr. Jedediah Strain were taking bets on at what point in the ceremony things would go terribly awry. Mrs. Evan Bryant was scrutinizing every detail looking for mistakes. But things were quiet and every detail was in place. Hair. Flowers. Dress. The music started,  the lovely sound of strings filling the cool night air. Even nature seemed to be in favor of the union. Fireflies danced amidst the shrubs adding an ethereal glow to the perimeter. It appeared to be the perfect affair.

Of course, no one could see the maid of honor’s white knuckles as they strangled her bouquet of lilies. And no one noticed the storm brewing behind her eyes as she took her deliberate steps down the aisle. As far as they could tell, and much to their disappointment, the woman, known for being a powder keg, was actually doing exactly what she was supposed to. Temperance was keeping it together.

Once her sister had made it half-way down the aisle, Prudence began her walk. Her neck lengthened as she stepped before the audience, a prim smile skirting the edges of her lips as she held court. This was her night, and that thought lifted her. She floated down the aisle toward her awaiting beau with a commanding presence that no first-time bride could ever hope to corral. She was born to be married; again, and again, and again.

The town was abuzz at the party afterward. All throughout preparations for this fateful day and throughout the ceremony, nothing had exploded, not a sister, not a husband, not a house. Why, tempers hadn’t even flared! Though there were a few convinced that there was still plenty of time, most were content with the fact that the anticipated crisis had been avoided. Prudence and Henry were set to leave in the morning, and though Temperance would be left on her own, she seemed somehow different from the Temperance they had known. Perhaps she had finally figured out the meaning of her own name. The vision of grace and moderation, Temperance stood by her sister’s side, a smile perfectly in place as the new couple received wellwishes.

That night, at party’s end, Prudence and Henry exchanged gifts, one special token of the other’s affection. For Henry, Prudence had selected a most beautiful set of stationary. Heavy papers with intricately illustrated borders fit for all of his business correspondence while the two were away. The set came complete with a self-inking pen, and lick-and-stick envelopes eliminating the need for all of the usual accoutrements.  She gifted it in a custom Jefferson box cleverly designed to hold all of his most personal documents. Only the most wealthy families had such appointments, and Henry was thrilled over this most practical gift for it was not just paper or pen, it was a piece of his treasured bride. It spoke of who she was. It reminded him of why he fell in love with her. And he felt more organized already.

Prudence was gifted a small, brocade, hat box; too small to fit any hat. Nestled in its silk lining was a miniature globe with a note that read: “For my lovely bride. I give you…the world.” Prudence was touched; not the kind of touched that is correctlyfeigned upon proper signal, but the kind of touched that took her breath away, a feat that no other husband had ever managed. Delicate fingers blotted a bit of wetness from her cheek. Stunned, she peered up at Henry, realizing only then that he had managed to bring tears to her eyes. A smile, and an unusual public display of affection followed as she wrapped her arms around him. A perfect ending to what had been a perfect evening.

 

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